Why should leaders measure levels of employee trust?

The employment landscape has been experiencing a constant and dynamic evolution in recent years, and the issue of trust between employers and employees has become increasingly important.

Edelman’s Trust Barometer surveyed 33,000 working people across 28 countries and found that a third of them don’t trust their current employer. The same research also discovered that the lower the position of the employee, the lower their trust level: while 64% of executives trust their employers, this figure reduces to 48% among those below manager level.

In this blog, we’ll explore the topic of organisational trust and why it matters. We’ll also take a look at why it’s so important for you to measure the level of trust within your organisation, and how to act on the results.

What is organisational trust?

Organisational trust refers to the level of confidence a workforce has in the actions of its employer. This is commonly focused on senior leadership and CEOs specifically, but in reality, organisational trust stretches over a much wider area. It can also encompass individual managers or team members; the purpose and vision of a business; its culture and values, including its commitment to diversity, inclusion and equality; and the fairness and ethics of how it operates.

This trust is often considered intangible, but it’s a critical part of any successful, properly-functioning business. If trust levels are low, then morale, productivity and collaboration suffer, all of which can impact the bottom line.

How trust fluctuates over time

The UK Government’s response to the pandemic serves as a prime illustration of shifting levels of trust. Initially, trust in, and compliance with, the Government’s COVID protection measures was high. However, a series of incidents where ministers were found to be breaking the rules they had set quickly eroded public trust in their leadership and authority. The ultimate consequence of this was that Boris Johnson had to resign as Prime Minister.

This example ably demonstrates how trust can be difficult to establish but very easy to damage beyond repair. In a business setting, employee trust can often be significantly bruised by a single incident, from business restructuring that overlooks their needs, to a manager taking credit for their work.

These issues may not be enough on their own to damage trust irreparably, but they can be if they form part of a repetitive trend of behaviour, especially if they aren’t challenged or addressed. And the more senior the person causing the issues, the bigger the effect they have on people’s trust further down.

Why does trust matter?

You may think that because trust is a nebulous, even emotional concept, it isn’t important in the matter-of-fact world of business. But as these benefits of high trust levels demonstrate, the reality is very different:

  • Increased productivity: if employees trust their employer, they will be more committed to their work and feel more willing to go the extra mile. Deloitte research has suggested that productivity goes up by as much as 50% when trust levels are good
  • Lower staff turnover and absenteeism: employees who feel trust are happier in their jobs, less likely to look for another one and less likely to call in sick due to stress or poor mental wellbeing. Sick days have been shown to reduce by as much as 13%
  • Better customer service: more committed employees will deliver better service to customers, as they will feel more inclined to ‘buy into’ and represent the brand. Trusted companies can outperform less trusted competitors by as much as 400%
  • Enhanced innovation: employees who are more motivated, happier and productive will have the energy and creativity to contribute new ideas that can help a business grow. The Harvard Business Review has found that high trust levels can lead to 106% more energy and 40% less burnout within an organisation

Why is measuring trust so important?

If you want to work out whether trust levels in your organisation are good, or whether they require improvement, then the place to start is by measuring and quantifying trust. And despite the intangible nature of trust, it’s entirely possible to do so.

If trust levels are considered in the same way as other key performance indicators and metrics, it can become ingrained within an organisation’s culture. Furthermore, if there are issues, it can become more of a priority for a business to address than it has been in the past.
One of the most reliable ways to measure trust is by surveying staff and benchmarking results against the principles of Blakey’s ‘Nine Habits’ model. This facilitates the translation of this measurement into practical behaviours and habits that can influence them either positively or negatively. Through these findings, it becomes much easier for you to identify the real-world steps you need to take to improve trust throughout your workforce.

Learn more about how you can begin your journey of trust here.

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Dr John Blakey is the author of ‘The Trusted Executive’ (book) and Founder of The Trusted Executive. Read John Blakey’s Forbes executive profile.